BATTLE OF THE SLOPES
At the beginning of June 1967 Second Battalion, 503rd Infantry, 173rd Airborne Brigade (the "Sky Soldiers"), moved to Dak-To in Kontum Province, South Vietnam. At the time, intelligence information indicated elements of the 24th North Vietnamese Army (NVA) Regiment, 304th VC Battalion, 200th VC Artillery Battalion, and H-15 Local Force Battalion were operating in the area. There were solid indications that the B-3 front was moving the bulk of its regiments from Laos and Cambodia into the Central Highlands under the control of the 1st NVA Division. The enemy had the capability to attack in up to regimental strength, to defend and reinforce with the above mentioned elements, and to withdraw at the time and place of his choosing. The enemy forces were well trained and seasoned soldiers.
22 June 1967
In mid-June the Battalion was directed to conduct search and destroy operations south of the Dak-To Special Forces Camp. The concept was to deploy A Company on 18 June and C Company on 20 June, with B Company held in reserve as a reaction force.
No contact was made with the enemy between 18 and 21 June, and late in the afternoon of the 21st A Company was directed to return overland to the 2/503rd Base Camp at Dak-To. A and C Companies shared a night laager on the night of the 21st. As dawn approached the two companies prepared to move out in different directions, A Company toward the base camp about 2000 meters distant with C Company continuing the search and destroy mission.
The night laager was located atop a ridgeline covered with triple-canopy jungle. A Company had only one practical route of march, down a steep-sided finger pointing north toward the relatively flat ground around Dak-To. C Company left the laager first, moving away from Dak-To. A Company began its move at about 0620 with 2nd Platoon in the lead, then 3rd Platoon, with the Command Group, Weapons Platoon, and 1st Platoon bringing up the rear. At 0658, 2nd Platoon's point squad ran into several NVA troops, initiating an intense firefight.
As the engagement developed, 3rd Platoon linked with 2nd Platoon and established an east-west defensive line across the finger facing northwards. By this time additional NVA forces had joined the fight, taking up positions south of the 2nd and 3rd Platoon position - between the two segments of A Company. When 1st Platoon was directed to reinforce the two advanced platoons they had first to fight their way through the developing NVA positions.
Although air and artillery support had been called in shortly after the intial contact, its usefulness was reduced by two factors: the assaulting NVA forces were in close contact and intermingled with the A Company elements, and the triple-canopy jungle prevented the fixed-wing and helicopter crews from actually seeing the ground troops. The best that could be done was to direct the supporting arms on the surrounding areas in an effort to isolate the battlefield from other NVA forces not yet engaged.
By 1000 the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd Platoons were surrounded and under attack by much larger NVA forces, with the Company Command Group and Weapons Platoon situated further up the ridge finger and under assault from their north. The advance element was down to fifteen effective men when radio contact was lost at about 1100. Shortly afterwards, the 2nd platoon's senior surviving Sergeant was able to lead some of his men into the Weapons Platoon defensive perimeter, making a total of thirty effective and thirty-five wounded soldiers within the perimeter. At 1140 the Company Commander decided to move back up the ridge to a more defensible position, a move completed by about noon. The situation at noontime was as follows:
B Company was engaged by 1230. The remaining men of A Company still were under heavy assault and were not relieved by C Company until about 1430. A landing area was cleared and the remnants of A Company extracted. As the afternoon continued, C Company was able to secure and search the area around A Company's final defensive position but night fell before they could extend the search into the areas where A Company's rifle platoons had fought. B and C Company set up separate defensive positions for the night. As the 2/503 soldiers waited through the night, anticipating an all-out attack, the men heard shots punctuated by screams as the NVA executed the American wounded. At dawn, B and C Companies searched the battlefield, finding only one survivor from A Company's rifle platoons; he had survived both his initial wounds and a close-range head shot. Fortythree American soldiers had died from head wounds inflicted at close range.
- Contact had been lost with the bulk of A Company's three rifle platoons.
- A Company's Command Group, Weapons Platoon, and effective and wounded soldiers from the rifle platoons had formed a defensive perimeter higher up the finger.
- The Battalion reserve, B Company, had been inserted into a single-ship landing zone several hundred meters away and was beginning to move out toward A Company's position.
- C Company was conducting an assault through NVA troops in an effort to reach A Company
Further clearing operations on the 23rd and 24th confirmed heavy losses among the NVA troops and identified the NVA unit involved as the 6th NVA Battalion, 24th NVA Regiment.
The final results of the engagement were as follows:
The Sky Soldiers who died in the engagement were
- U. S. Losses: 76 killed and 23 wounded (74 dead from A Company).
- ARVN losses: 1 ARVN interpreter/advisor and 2 CIDG killed.
- Enemy Losses: 106 NVA KIA (Body count), 407 NVA KIA (possible), 3 POWs.
A full description of the action can be found on the
- A Company, 2/503rd Infantry
- PFC Terry L. Allen, Kansas City, MO
- PFC James Arnold, Greenville, SC
- PFC William J. Boehm, Silver Spring, MD
- 1LT Ervin L. Burns, Providence, KY
- PFC Albert Butler, Tyler, TX
- PFC Darrell W. Butts, Wichita, KS
- PFC Carlin M. Campbell, San Diego, CA
- SP4 Ronald C. Clark, Gainesville, GA
- PFC Thorne M. Clark, Lompoc, CA
- SP4 Jack L. Cripe, Onondaga, MI
- SP4 Lloyd D. De Loach, Dallas, TX
- PFC Lester M. De Riso, Warren, RI
- SP4 Charles O. Deedrick, Winona, MN
- SP4 Thomas A. Deschenes, Fitchburg, MA
- PFC Thomas B. Duffy, Glen Ellyn, IL
- PFC Timothy J. Egan, Chicago, IL
- SGT James R. Emmert, Huntington, WV
- SP4 Russel W. Engle, Madison, NJ
- SP4 Bobby L. Finney, Boston, MA
- SP4 Burrell Gibson, Dayton, OH
- PFC Kenneth L. Greene, Somerville, MA
- PFC David J. Heller, South Boone, CO
- SGT Alvin G. Hill, Bartow, FL
- PFC Doyle Holcomb, Johnson City, TN
- 1LT Richard E. Hood, Winter Haven, FL
- SP4 Vins R. Hooper, Somerset, NJ
- SGT David E. Johnson, Natchez, MS
- SGT Harry J. Johnson, Tarrant City, AL
- SP4 Richard B. Johnston, Candia, NH
- SP4 Richard J. Johnston, Sacramento, CA
- 1LT Donald R. Judd, Alexander, NY
- SGT Stephen A. Kelly, Atlanta, GA
- SSG Kenneth K. Lima, Honolulu, HI
- PFC Frederick H. Liminga, Pontiac, MI
- PSGT Robert R. Litwin, Willimansett, MA (Dist Svc Cross)
- SP4 Jimmy C. Lowry, Nocatee, FL
- SP4 Gary A. Luttrell, Sterling, IL
- PFC Walter C. Mayer, San Antonio, TX
- PFC William S. McBroom, Russell, NY
- SP4 Frank McCray, Miami, FL
- SP4 John McEachin, New York, NY
- PFC Stephen A. Mika, Willowick, OH
- PFC Donald M. Munden, Quail Valley, CA
- PFC William A. Munn, Detroit, MI
- PFC Timothy J. Murphy, Avenel, NJ
- PFC Daniel L. Negro, Wakefield, MI
- PFC Jerry L. Noe, Knoxville, TN
- SP4 Michael D. O'Connor, Mount Pleasant, IA
- PFC George Patton, New York, NY
- SGT John P. Patton, Oakland, CA
- PFC George A. Poor, Hillsdale, NJ
- SP4 Leonard B. Poore, Beaumont, TX
- SP4 Robert L. Preddy, San Bernardino, CA
- PFC Floyd E. Quarles, New York, NY
- SP4 Ralph J. Rizzi, Canandaigua, NY
- PFC Trine Romero, Roswell, NM
- PFC Hector M. Saenz, Roswell, NM
- PFC James W. Sanford, Orangeburg, SC
- PFC Warren H. Schrobilgen, Pacoima, CA
- 2LT Jeffrey R. Sexton, Maricopa, AZ
- SP4 John Sharber, Jackson, MS
- SP4 Lloyd E. Smith, Portales, NM
- PFC Charles H. Snow, Medford, OR
- PFC Johnson A. Steidler, Gibbstown, NJ
- SGT David A. Stephens, Largo, FL
- PFC David R. Stephenson, Sand Springs, OK
- PFC Robert L. Stevens, Kalamazoo, MI
- PFC Fa'asaviliga V. Tafao, San Diego, CA
- SP4 Larry B. Turner, Oakboro, NC
- PFC Daniel V. Valdez, Antioch, CA
- PFC Charlie L. Walker, Munford, AL
- PFC Michael J. Waterman, Westminster, MA
- PFC Edwin J. Williams, Detroit, MI
- SP4 Alexander C. Zsigo, Durand, MI
- B Company, 2/503rd Infantry
- 1LT Ellis A. McBride, Lithia, FL
- C Company, 2/503rd Infantry
- PVT Jimmy L. Cook, Phoenix, AZ
Sky Soldier site